Mauritania – Islamic Republic of Mauritania, Africa


The Anthem of Mauritania

Mauritania is a country in West Africa, washed by the Atlantic Ocean from the west. The country has an area of 1,030,700 km². Until 1960 Mauritania was a French possession. The official language is Arabic. The administrative-territorial division: 12 regions and one autonomous metropolitan area.

Most of the country is occupied by sandy and stony deserts of Western Sahara. The relief is dominated by vast lowland plains and low plateaus (732 m above sea level). The only river with a permanent watercourse is the border Senegal.

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General Information

The current population of Mauritania (about 4.3 million) is ethnically mixed: three quarters of the population are Arabs and Berbers, cattle farmers and in the south the Negro-African peoples of Toukler, Fulani, Wolof and others, who lead a mainly sedentary lifestyle, dominate. Islam is proclaimed the state religion. Unlike some other countries of North and West Africa, Mauritania did not experience the flowering of the medieval civilization, but the urban settlements of Chinguetti, Tichit, Walata, which have survived from that period, testify to their former prosperity and the fine art of decorating the facades of buildings. The library of Shingetti contains 2 thousand manuscripts of Arabic scholars. There is a variety of music, singing, dancing arts of the Mauritanian people. Nouakchott, the capital and the largest city of the country, was built only 30-40 years ago. The second largest and most important city is the port of Nouadhibou.

In the 4th – mid 11th centuries, the southern part of Mauritania was part of the medieval states of West Africa (Ghana, Tekrour, etc.) and in the northern part there were state formations of the Berber-Sanhage. In the middle of the XI-XII centuries. In the XIII-XIV centuries, southern part of Mauritania was part of the medieval state of Mali. European penetration from the 15th century onwards culminated in Mauritania becoming a French colony (1920). Mauritania was an “overseas territory” since 1946 and a self-determined republic within the French Community since 1958. On November 28, 1960, Mauritania was proclaimed an independent republic.

Climate, flora and fauna

The climate is tropical desert, with average monthly temperatures ranging from 16-20°C in January to 30-32°C in July. Rainfall in most of the country is less than 100 mm per year, except in the south – in the Sahel zone – 200-400 mm.

The vegetation of Mauritania has a corresponding character: sparse shrubs and isolated trees in the south, while in the rest of the territory the scarce greenery appears only for a short time after the rains.

Among the big animals in Mauritania are the oryx and addax antelope, the mountain goat, and among the small predators are the jackal and the fenek fox. Snakes and lizards are numerous, as well as insects and spiders.


The Berbers from North Africa settled in what is now Mauritania in 200 BC. They moved southward in search of pastures, often imposing tribute on the local Negro farmers, and pushing those who resisted back to the Senegal River. The emergence of camels from North Africa in this area in the later period of the Roman Empire initiated the caravan trade between the Mediterranean coast and the Niger River basin, which benefited the Berber Sanhaja tribal group. Having seized the important point of the caravan trade Audagost in eastern Mauritania on the way to the salt mines of Sijilmasa to the north, the Berbers came into conflict with the empire of Ghana, which at that time was expanding its borders in the northern direction. The state of Ghana was founded in the 3rd century A.D. and part of its territory was in the modern areas of Auqar, Hod el Gharbi, and Hod el Sharqi of southeastern Mauritania. In 990 Ghana invaded Audagost, forcing the Lemtun and Goddal tribes, which were part of the defeated Sanhaja, to unite in a confederation for self-defense. In the 10th-11th centuries some Sanhaj chiefs converted to Islam and soon became Sunni sympathizers. The descendants of the Islamized Berber nobility, the Almoravids, spread their religious beliefs among ordinary Berbers, created a religious and political movement, and captured the capital of Ghana in 1076. Although the confrontation among the victors again divided the Berber tribes, Ghana was dealt a blow from which it never recovered. In significantly narrowed borders, it survived until 1240.

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In the 11th-12th centuries, the Berbers felt the effects of the Arab conquests in North Africa. In the 15th-17th centuries, after several centuries of relatively peaceful penetration into Mauritanian territory, the Bedouin Hasan tribe subjugated the local Berbers and, mingling with them, began the ethnic group of the Moors (Arab-Berbers). Although some Berbers, such as the Tuareg ancestors, did not want to fall under Arab rule and retreated into the desert, Arabic became the native language for most, and Islam became the new religion. Many black Africans who had been sedentary farmers in the southern parts of the country were subjugated by Berbers during the 11th-16th centuries and became subjects of the new Arab emirates of Trarza, Brakna, and Tagant.

The Portuguese, who appeared off the Atlantic coast in the 15th century, founded a trading fort on Argen Island in 1461. At various times during the 17th-18th centuries, they were replaced by Dutch, English and, finally, French traders. European merchants sought to establish control over the trade of gum arabic from the Sahel.

In the early 19th century, French traders who settled in Senegal repeatedly came into conflict with the Arab emirs, who tried to control and tax the gum arabic trade. In 1855-1858 the governor of Senegal, Louis Federbe, led a French campaign against the Emirate of Trarza. In the 19th century, French officers moved north from Senegal to explore the interior of the desert. In the early 1900s, a detachment of French under the command of Xavier Coppolani invaded these areas to protect the interests of French traders and began to govern them as part of the French colony of Senegal. In 1904 these territories were withdrawn from Senegal and in 1920 were incorporated into French West Africa. However, until 1957 their capital was still Saint-Louis in Senegal. The French had great difficulty in managing a nomadic population whose tribal rivalries and Arab-Berber rivalries persisted. Administrative difficulties were also exacerbated by tensions between the nomadic and sedentary populations. Even after World War II, some areas continued to be administered by the military administration.

In 1946 Mauritania was granted the right to form a territorial assembly and to be represented in the French parliament. The first political organizations began to emerge, but they were not yet widespread. In 1958, Mauritania became part of the French Community under the name of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, and on November 28, 1960, became an independent state. Moktar Ould Dadda became Mauritania’s first prime minister and then president. Relying initially on traditional elites and France, he modeled the radical regime of Guinea by creating a mass political party and eventually concentrating all power in his hands. Moktar Ould Daddah took Mauritania out of the franc zone and proclaimed Arabic as the state language, which immediately provoked resistance from southerners who feared the domination of the majority Moors.

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In 1976 an agreement was reached to place the colonial possession of Spain, Western Sahara (formerly the Spanish Sahara), under the temporary administration of Morocco and Mauritania. However, this was followed by an unpopular war with the Frente Polisario, a national liberation movement of Western Sahara aided by Algeria, among the Mauritanians.

In July 1978, in a bloodless military coup, the army overthrew Moctar Ould Daddou. In the immediate aftermath, the constitution was suspended, the government, parliament, and social organizations were dissolved, and power was transferred to the Military Committee for National Renewal (Comité militaire national de renouveau, CMNR). Lieutenant Colonel Mustafa Ould Mohammed Salek, its leader, took over as president of the country. POLISARIO declared an end to the war with Mauritania, but the Moroccan leadership insisted that the Mauritanians continue to fight for their part of Western Sahara.

The next few years were marked by frequent changes of leaders in the military regime. Relations between the Negro and the Moors remained tense. Attempts by individual members of the Military Committee to stage a new military coup, as well as disagreements with Morocco over the question of Western Sahara, were a constant source of internal political instability.

For a brief period in 1979 Mustafa Ould Mohammed Salek established a regime of personal power and reconstituted under a new name the Military Committee for National Revival, which he continued to lead after his resignation. He was soon ousted by Lieutenant Colonel Muhammad Luli, who in turn was forced to relinquish power in 1980 in favor of Lieutenant Colonel Muhammad Khuna Ould Heydallah. The latter, as prime minister, declared in July 1979 the final renunciation of Mauritania’s claim to the territory of Western Sahara. In 1981 Mohammed Houna Ould Heidallah renounced his intention to form a civilian government and adopt a new constitution.

In 1984, in a bloodless coup, Lieutenant Colonel Maouya Ould Sidi Ahmed Tayyah, who had been prime minister several times under Mohammed Houna Ould Heidallah, seized power in the country. Overall, Maouya Ould Sidi Ahmed Tayyah was able to restore internal stability, initiate economic reforms, and take steps to democratize the political system.

Ethnic riots continued in Mauritania until the late 1980s, and the border dispute with Senegal in 1989 provoked a wave of attacks on black Mauritanians and Senegalese citizens and the expulsion of the latter from the country. Disagreement over the demarcation of the Mauritanian-Senegalese border and the repatriation of refugees led to a temporary suspension of diplomatic and economic relations, which were restored in 1992.

A national referendum held in 1991 adopted a new constitution introducing a multi-party system. Maouye Ould Sidi Ahmed Tayyah’s victory in the 1992 presidential election was marred by riots and accusations of vote-rigging. The pro-government Republican Social Democratic Party (RSDP) won an overwhelming majority of seats in the 1992 and 1996 National Assembly elections, as well as in the 1992, 1994, and 1996 Senate elections.

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The main events since the adoption of the new constitution have been boycotts of elections by opposition parties claiming that the ruling party had a unilateral advantage in electoral campaigns, arrests of opposition group members, and clashes based on interethnic conflicts. Despite the Mauritanian government’s diverse ethnic composition and its formal implementation of some democratic reforms under the new constitution, international human rights observers in the 1990s continued to note violations of the rights of the black minority population and members of opposition organizations.


Mauritania is a developing country with a relatively low standard of living compared to other countries in the region.

During the colonial period, camel farming, fishing, and subsistence agriculture were the main occupations of the population. Iron ore deposits were discovered in the 1960s, and mining has been the mainstay of the Mauritanian economy ever since.

Agriculture in Mauritania is held back by an arid climate. The oases grow dates and grain crops. In the 1970s, the Sahel region was plagued by drought, affecting more than half of the region’s countries and 200 million people. In Mauritania, the drought killed crops and caused famine. The second blow of the drought was in 1982-1984. Soon an irrigation system was built, which has allowed to somewhat overcome the effects of drought. Irrigated 49 thousand hectares of land.

Mauritania – the country where the exemplary Arabic language is preserved

Mauritania - a model of Arabic speech

The Islamic Republic of Mauritania. It is the state in the northwest of Africa. The capital is Nouakchott. The territory is of 1031 thousand sq. km. The administrative-territorial division consists of 12 regions and autonomous region of Nouakchott. Population – 3.18 million (2006, estimate). The official language is Arabic.

Mauritania is a developing poor country. Its capital is a relatively small city of low-rise buildings. It is no coincidence that the country is called Mauritania – its inhabitants feel their connection with the Moors – the population of medieval Muslim Spain, who, having experienced a genocide, were forced to flee from Spain to Africa. Unfortunately, the high culture of the Muslim states of the Iberian Peninsula in Africa could not be preserved, but a certain involvement with it among the Moors is expressed through the love of the names “Andalus” and “Cordoba. Numerous cafes, barbershops, and other establishments use these ancient words in their names.

In Nouakchott, the Islam of the city is felt, where, as it should be, the sound of the azan is heard five times a day.

Mauritania, despite its poverty, has the main wealth, the Islamic identity, the main asset of the Mauritanians is the Islamic republic, other countries may have more other riches, but they do not have the main asset, Islam.

Mauritania has good relations with Libya and has a great respect for Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi. This is evidence of his tremendous authority on the Black Continent. Nearly a billion people on this beautiful and troubled continent trust and rely on him.

On his initiative, moulids in honor of the Prophet Muhammad (sallallallahu alayhi wasallam) are held in the Nouakchott stadium.

These Moulids feature theologians and Islamic poets who reveal the continuing significance and role of the Prophet Muhammad (sallallallahu alayhi wasallam) not only for human civilization but also for the universe. It shows the incomparable purity of Islamic doctrine, its clear superiority and dignity, and does so provably, giving weighty and exhaustive arguments, while expressing profound thoughts in simple language that is equally comprehensible to professors and the most illiterate listeners alike.

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The performance of Moulids in Mauritania has been very beneficial for a society that has been ravaged by political conflicts and military upheavals.


The population of Mauritania is Islamic and is divided into two groups. In the south of the country, along the Senegal River, there are sedentary agricultural peoples (Wolof, Toukouler and Soninke), who make up about 1/5 of the total population. The rest of the population, the nomadic pastoralists, are scattered over vast expanses of deserts and semi-deserts. Ethnically they belong to the Moors, a people of mixed Arab, Berber, and West African origin, and the Tuaregs. The Berbers inhabited North and Northwest Africa before the new era. After the arrival of the Arabs in North Africa (7th-8th centuries), some Berber tribes mixed with the Arabs. They all embraced Islam and converted to the use of the Arabic language.

Pure Arabic.

A linguistic feature of the Moors is that they speak pure literary Arabic, i.e., the language of the Holy Quran. Their language can be called a model of Arabic speech. In many Arab countries the population speaks different dialects. The Arabs are very far from the literary language in their spoken language, which is not the case with the Moors. They have retained the style of speech handed down to them by the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (sallallallahu alayhi wasallam) and communicate in pure literary Arabic.

Mauritania is a multi-ethnic state. The Arab-Berber Moors (of Caucasian race) account for 70% of the population. About 30 per cent are of African origin (Bambara, Wolof, Sarakole, Toukouler, Fulbe, etc.). Less than 1% of the population of Mauritania are Europeans (French and Spaniards), as well as natives of Senegal and Mali. In addition to Arabic, French is widely spoken. Some local dialects (Wolof, Pulaar, Soninke) are recognized as languages of international communication.

The second oldest minaret in the world.


Foreign tourists in Mauritania are attracted by the beauty of natural landscapes, ancient monuments of history and architecture and the rich cultural traditions of the local people.The Shingetti Mosque is an ancient center of worship established by the founders of the oasis town of Shingetti in the Adrar region of Mauritania, from the thirteenth or fourteenth century.

The minaret of this ancient mosque is believed to be the second oldest among minarets in continuous use throughout the Muslim world.

The structure of the building consists of a prayer room with four aisles and double niches – a symbolic door, or mihrab, pointing to Mecca and an open courtyard. Among its most distinctive features are the split limestone masonry, its square minaret tower, as the mosque was originally built as a distinctive feature, a “calling card” of the founders of the city. The mosque and the minaret are generally considered to be the national emblem of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.

In the 1970s the mosque was restored by UNESCO but continues to be threatened by intense desertification along with the city.


99.6% of the population is Muslim. Islam is the official religion in Mauritania. The most common is the Sunni branch of the Maliki. Penetration of Islam began in the 8th century. 0.1% of the population adhere to traditional African beliefs (animalism, fetishism, the cult of ancestors, the forces of nature, etc.). Christianity began to spread in the 16th-17th centuries. In a small community of Christians the majority are Catholics.

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State system.

Mauritania is a republic. There is a constitution adopted in July 1991.

The Mauritanian judicial system is based on Shariah.

Issues of personal status (legal capacity, marriage, divorce, inheritance) and others are regulated by Muslim law. The position of Muslim law strengthened in the country in the 1970s and 1980s, especially in the sphere of criminal law and legal procedure.

In 1980 the government officially declared the Shariah as the current law of civil turnover, excluding some so-called modern relations (corporate, transport, etc.). Property relations are regulated within the framework of Islamic principles by the Mauritanian Civil Code.


Compulsory primary education is 6 years, from ages 6 to 11. The language of instruction is Arabic, and elementary school is free. Secondary education (six years) is held in two stages (three years each).

In March 2002, the 2nd African Science and Technology Summit was held in Nouakchott. In May of the same year, the International Book Salon was held in the capital, where 97 publishers from Arab countries were represented.

Architecture, fine arts, and crafts.

Folk dwellings are rectangular in shape, with walls made of sandstone and flat roofs made of acacia trunks. Nomadic peoples’ dwellings are tents covered with blankets of milled camel’s hair or cloth. Modern construction uses aluminum, reinforced concrete structures, and glass. A special type of modern architecture is the construction of mosques.


In the 10th and 11th centuries, some Berber Sanhaja tribal leaders converted to Islam and soon became Sunni sympathizers. The descendants of the Islamized Berber nobility, the Almoravids, spread their religious beliefs among the common Berbers.

For most, Arabic became the mother tongue and Islam the new religion.

The Portuguese, who appeared off the Atlantic coast in the 15th century, founded a trading fort on Argen Island in 1461. At various times during the 17th-18th centuries, they were replaced by Dutch, English and, finally, French traders. European merchants sought to establish control over the trade of gum arabic from the Sahel.

In the early 19th century, French traders who settled in Senegal repeatedly came into conflict with the Arab emirs, who tried to control and tax the trade in gum arabic. In 1855-1858 the governor of Senegal, Louis Federbe, led a French campaign to seize the emirate of Trarza. In the 19th century French officers, moving north from Senegal, captured the interior of the desert. In the early 1900s, a detachment of French commanded by Xavier Coppolani invaded these areas to protect the interests of French traders and began to govern them as part of the French colony of Senegal. In 1904 these territories were withdrawn from Senegal and in 1920 were incorporated into French West Africa. The French managed the nomadic population with considerable difficulty.

In 1958 Mauritania became part of the French Community as the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, and became an independent state on November 28, 1960.


Love Prokopenko. Mauritania

Valiulla Hazrat Yakupov. Mauritania: a country of contrasts

Islamic Republic of Mauritania. Handbook. Moscow, Nauka, 1987.

Countries of Africa and Russia. Handbook. Moscow: Publishing house of Institute of Africa of the Russian Academy of Sciences, 2004.

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